Susie Dent: The frolic-hearted and feckful words we need to live by in 2023

I've made it a bit of a mission to bring back the lost positives of language

This day tends to be one of mixed emotions. Hope, regret, wistfulness and good cheer are frequent companions to the start of the New Year, traditionally mixed in with a good deal of crapulence (17th-century speak for sickness due to a surfeit of food and alcohol). That package of feelings is neatly captured in “January” itself, which took its name from the Roman deity Janus, god of beginnings and keeper of doors and gateways, depicted in art with two faces: one that looks back and one facing forward, just as New Year’s Eve eyes both the past and the future.

Mind you, if you are so crambazzled (prematurely aged from excess drinking) that looking in the mirror this morning causes distinct idio-repulsion (an underused word for when you disgust even yourself), then the future understandably may not seem so bright. But however reluctantly we might be facing the day, we could all do with being more forward-facing Janus and throwing a hopeful glance at what is to come. In that spirit I have gathered together a collection of words to live by in 2023, largely borrowed from my favourite place in the world, the historical lexicon.

dolce far niente

For the lucky amongst us this is still a holiday, and we can surely embrace the Italian ethos of dolce far niente, the pleasure of doing nothing. While we tend to be overly judgmental about idleness, many of us need an antidote to the stresses of daily life that leave us entirely “depooperit” and “forswunk” (exhausted from too much work) and “overmused” (weary from too much thinking).


I’ve made it a bit of a mission to bring back the lost positives of language – a world where kempt, wieldy, ept, mayed, gormful, gruntled, and gormful once happily existed before they quietly exited the stage. Another on the list for resurrection is surely “feckful”, which slowly faded from view in the course of the 20th century. Today we may only know its feeble offspring, but to be full of feck is to be powerful, efficient, and vigorous – a worthy resolution for the year ahead. (This of course bears no relation to the “feck” that is a verbal sidestep in the swearing arsenal.)


Too often we speak of Schadenfreude, pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. Much better to hold onto “confelicity”, an unbeatable description of “joy in another person’s happiness”. We may have forgotten its name – indeed it only ever had a brief moment in the sun some 300 years ago – but we should never give up on the feeling.


How we long to be frolic-hearted: joyous, merry, and light in spirit. Sixteenth century writers tended to associate frolic-heartedness with youth, but it need not be exclusive. Forget the German torschlusspanik (“gate-shut panic”, aka the fear that the doors of opportunity are closing on you in middle age): let’s frolic our way through the year.


The word “glee” has led a bit of a double life, describing extreme joy as well as a slightly smug satisfaction, often at the expense of others. There is not a whiff of negativity around the “glee-dream”, however, for this particular brand of joy comes entirely from music, and is described beautifully in the Oxford English Dictionary as “delight in minstrelsy”.

hyppytyynytyydytys [hoop-uh-tuer-nee-tuerd-uh-tiss]

While I would never expect anyone to use it, there is sheer happiness in the fact that the Finnish confection hyppytyynytyydytys even exists. It describes the pleasure of dropping into an armchair, preferably with a deep sigh. It seems to be used sparingly in Finland and has barely travelled beyond the confines of the internet, where it has been rather wonderfully translated as “bouncy cushion satisfaction”.


We all need more boffolas, which are essentially little “boffos” or “boffs” – hearty, unrestrained, and highly infectious laughs that probably began with the Italian buffo, “comical”. The word’s heyday was in the 1930s, but its time will come again.


If the Ukrainians have shown us anything over the past twelve months, it is supreme fortitude and what the Finns call “sisu” – utmost determination no matter what is thrown at you. To pertolerate, in the 1600s, was to endure steadfastly and to see something through to the end.


At the end of pertolerance lies, we must hope, “respair”. I never tire of mentioning this word whenever I’m able, for it is truly a lost gem. With only one record of its use in the Oxford English Dictionary, it means fresh hope, and a recovery from despair.


Despite the three letters at the heart of the 16th-century “resipiscence”, which means a return to a better state of mind, alcohol is not a prerequisite to achieve it. Rather, it describes the impressive achievement of recombobulating when times are hard.

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The Japanese seijaku is about finding serenity in the midst of chaos, particularly taking respite from nature. Seijaku is much more than “calmness”: it means stilling the cacophony of noise in our ears and heads and enjoying beauty wherever we find it.


You can immediately forget the catastrophe here, for this word – the creation of The Hobbit author JRR Tolkien – means an unexpectedly happy ending. The eu is the Greek prefix for “good”, which you’ll find in euphemism and euphonious too. If ever someone could conjure magic out of darkness, it was Tolkien.


Should, despite holding on to the prospect of a eucatastrophe, things once again go belly-up in 2023, there is one word we can hold back in reserve. “Strikhedonia” is a very modern coinage made up of strik – “go ahead” or “proceed”, and the Greek hedonia, “pleasure”. Put them together and you have the “satisfaction of saying “to hell with it’”. In fact, that might be the very best resolution of all. Particularly when looking in the mirror. Happy New Year.

Susie Dent is a lexicographer and etymologist. She has appeared in Dictionary Corner on Countdown since 1992, and co-hosts with Gyles Brandreth the podcast Something Rhymes with Purple

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